Sunday, 29 July 2012

Hear the drum

The atmosphere is building. Sent by King Robert the Bruce, William de Irwyn is marching up to take over the Tower of Drum. What we now know as the Old Wood of Drum was already hunting grounds where royals hunted wild boar and deer for some time. Drum had become a place to be reckoned with.

Can you still hear the beat of the drum? Do the oak woods, tower and castle remind you of what happened here more than seven hundred years ago? The community music project Hear the Drum, commissioned by the National Trust for Scotland, invites participants to let Drum Castle, Garden and Estate trigger their imagination. On Saturday 6 October (castle), Sunday 7 October (tower) and Saturday 13 October (woodlands), visitors to the property will be invited to contribute to the development of three storylines through creative writing and drawing inspired by the woodlands, tower and castle. Based on these creative ideas, community musician Petra Vergunst will compose three opera-inspired pieces of music that will be rehearsed in three hour-long workshops on Saturday 1 December. In the Drawing Room of Drum Castle, participants will then be encouraged to step inside the castle, raise their voices and let the stories unfold. 

For more information about this project, contact senior assistant Laura Paterson at 0844 493 2161 or

Other links to the Hear the Drum project:
Woods of Drum
Contribute creatively
Copyright text and image (photo) Petra Vergunst

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The story in brief

We Can Dance, We Can Swing is a community music work about the women who worked in Dundee’s jute industry in the 1930s. As mill managers tended to lay off boys as their wages were higher than those of their female counterparts, women dominated the work floor. It thus happened that millgirls went out to work, while their husbands stayed at home to look after the family. At its height, up to 50,000 people were employed in Dundee’s jute industry.

The music starts with the millgirls being out in town, dancing and sharing the latest gossip. Eventually, one millgirl steps forward to remind her friends of the other side of their lives, the unhealthy conditions and the difficulties many of them face in feeding their families. The mood changes and the girls unite in a chorus expressing their demands for better pay. Having the confidence to speak up for themselves, the millgirl then puts the girls’ case to the mill manager. In the epilogue, a narrator talks about Mary Brooksbank, one of the woman who in the 20th century raised her voice against the mill management, after which the millgirls reflect on the legacy of the jute industry for their own lives.
We Can Dance, We Can Swing, the libretto and music of which are written by Petra Vergunst, is a five-movement work for narrator, choir and ensemble. The choir music is stratified to allow singers with little musical experience to sing in unison and singers with more musical experience to sing solo and harmony. The accompaniment is scored for flexible ensemble, consisting of one instrument in the upper range (e.g. flute), two in the upper middle range (e.g. two violins), and one in the lower range (e.g. cello). The millgirls and mill manager are given their own musical theme that can be distinguished throughout the work. The theme for the millgirls is used in a flexible way to express the jolly, reflective and confident moods in the work respectively. The theme for the mill manager contrasts this.

It is hoped that the workshops in the memory sharing weekend on 25 and 26 August will generate material to fill in the storyline in more detail.

The words and music of We Can Dance, We Can Swing can be listened to at the blogs Friday Night and Still A Young Girl. More blog posts with music will follow.

Copyright text and image Petra Vergunst

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Sound talk

 The programme for the memory sharing weekend for the Warp and Weft project at Dundee's Verdant Works has now been finalised:
Saturday 25 August
Sunday 26 August
11 am    Share a memory:

12 pm    Sing a Song

12 pm    Sound Talk

1 pm      Sound Talk

1 pm      Share a Memory:
              Millgirls United

2 pm      Share a Memory:
              Millgirls United

2 pm      Sing a Song
3 pm      Sing a Song

3pm       Share a Memory:

In the Share a Memory workshop people who have worked in the jute industry are invited to share their experiences of home life (Breadwinner) and of trade unions and strikes (Millgirls United). Traditional Dundee mill songs will feature in Sing a Song, a workshop open to everyone. In the workshop Sound Talk former millgirls will be invited to tell about the sounds and rhythms on the work floor and the memories these evoke. Each workshop will last around 25 minutes. 
For more information about the project, contact Dundee Heritage Trust's Education Officer Brian Kelly at or 01382 309078.

Copyright text and image Petra Vergunst